Is An Inter-Cultural Formation Team Relevant For Our Time?
The present world is moving more and more inevitably towards a multi-cultural milieu for many reasons: refugees of wars, persecution for their faith, in search of truth and justice, better life, in search of freedom of spirit and of knowledge. Waves of human ‘currents’ such as these and many more are bringing the world to a gradual multi-cultural, multi- ethnic milieu. Each Nation is engaging in inter- cultural processes to bring about a kind of universal community. A fine example is the ‘Pancasila’, a National Policy, launched by Indonesia 76 years ago and supported by the local Indonesian Church – a mighty effort to amalgamate the 400 hundred various cultures, sub-cultures and ethnic groups present in the 17,508 islands bordering the South China Sea, into a harmonious Indonesian Nation with 270.6 million people that has already a richness which exists within the interaction with other cultures.
The Church of Christ by its very nature and mission of its founder, Jesus Christ, Son of God made man and the Saviour of all, is a universal institution. Hence it can bring about a very close bond between the various communities and nations too. As a visible social structure, it is a sign of its unity in Christ embracing all the peoples of the world, with all that is noble and good in their cultures, and this has been enhanced with Vatican II, opening a big window by inviting worship in the local languages and recognising as of value, whatever is good and beautiful in each religion, cultures and traditions. The Church of Christ has certainly assumed and continues to reflect the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and lingual nature of evolving human society taken as a whole. The missionary dimension is an essential element in the identity of the Institution of the Church and the expression of its universality.
Given this backdrop of the World scenario and its increasing process of transforming into multicultural societies, especially in urban areas, more and more candidates coming from various cultures are being welcomed into Religious Formation Communities. Also a Delegation or Province constituting many nations is another reason for an inter-cultural milieu not only in Formation houses but also in our Religious communities. If some of our Formation Houses have international candidates already, then it isrelevant to consider a multicultural Formation Team too, with a vision that diversity strengthens the character of the Mission of the Church. Yet this diversity comes with unique challenges. The inter-cultural Formation Team, where differences are perceived positively, there are obviously many blessings. The Christian conviction about God as the Father of us all is affirmed through the loving testimony of people of different cultures forming a religious family. The witnessing of the Paternity of God is not only to the candidates but to the larger community as well. A multicultural Formation community is a prophetic sign of harmony and communion in the context of a world wounded by ethnic conflicts and communal wars.
The presence of members from various cultures contribute to personal growth by challenging the limited world vision of a single culture. Many relevant issues in formation of candidates can take a broader perspective. It promotes a better self-knowledge as contacts with people of other cultures shed light on one’s own unquestioned beliefs and prejudices and enhances greater self-awareness. “People who have been in another culture with a positive outlook seem to achieve greater personal growth and refinement as humans” says Fr. Matthew Vattamatam cmf. in his study of inter-cultural communities. Exposure of other cultures lead to healthy confrontation among cultures that sheds light on each culture’s limitations and idiosyncrasies, mutually benefitting from the best of one another. It also works in favour of Apostolic effectiveness. An intercultural Formation community has richer resources to address. It is all the more relevant for a multi – cultural society.
Having seen the positive side, it is fair to consider now the challenges which come in the form of prejudices and stereotypes which motivate false perceptions. The predominant group may impose on others what they consider as norms. The cultural shield where self-interests are used as cultural differences is not uncommon. The predominant group may tend to indulge in vernacular languages and practice their customs without sensitivity to others. Some principles to promote group cohesion in inter-cultural Formation communities include priority given to vocational values over cultural values. An all pervading awareness among the inter-cultural Formation team leaders and the candidates is essential, that what unites us as a Religious family is the charism and the mission. Clarity between cultural relativism and moral relativism is very important. The Formation team must first of all be convinced that vocational values and constitutional norms have priority over particular norms of individual members of the community. Gospel values are non-negotiable in a confrontation with cultural values.
Taking time to share each other’s cultural values, traditions and festivals will help in strengthening the bond among the members of the Formation Team and help each other to see the diversities and values and appreciate them rather than showing indifference. In fact, the recognition of the dignity of the human person requires not only tolerating, but also welcoming the viewpoints of others as an enrichment, while the attempt to set “absolute truths” in these temporal questions open to opinion represents an impoverishment, a lack of trust in the contribution of others to the truth. (St. J. Escriva)
When relational problems arise between two persons, it is to be handled as personal issues. Generalization of the mistake of the person as that of those who belong to her culture is to miss the individual nature and responsibility for the event. Conflicts and tensions are natural for any group. In a formation community they offer opportunities to learn about conflicts and healthy ways of dealing with them. Healthy ways of managing community conflicts address the core issues of differences and refuse to be communalized.
In any inter-cultural community the process of integration within the community takes place given the time and the stages within a process, in phases starting from initial euphoria, irritability and hostility, gradual adjustment, adaptation and acceptance and appreciation of each other as they are. A person emerging from such experience as a full-fledged Religious is more likely to be open to different cultures and to the unexpected, even from the spiritual point of view. Open to the working of God’s spirit, open to embrace the new, is open and flexible to go anywhere to bring the love of Christ, especially in the neediest areas.
The openness to the new and ‘different’ can already be noted in the life our Foundress, St.Magdalene of Canossa. As her spiritual life grows, its inseparable from her activities and is the stimulus for an apostolic zeal that can freely respond to Providential requests she gets to open communities in Venice, Milan, Trent and Bergamo. After the Union of houses under M. Antoniett Manzoni, candidates for Ad Gentes were directed to Vimercate, Milan for formation. If not a totally inter-cultural milieu, it was a sub-cultural milieu with candidates coming from different regions of Italy. Candidates were coming together with all the idiosyncrasies, clichés and characteristic traits of their regions. However, Vimercate produced excellent Ad Gentes vocations for all the new Canossian Missions in the world which were later to expand into respective Provinces and Delegations. Some of these stalwart elderly pioneer Canossians are still in their beloved Missions today!
As years go by and many more of our Communities, Formation communities, Formation teams become intercultural, opportune time will come for us to create a congregational culture which goes beyond merely tolerating cultural differences of sisters. Such a Congregational culture should reflect the Universal Saviour’s embracing of all humanity in its diversities. Christ’s prayer on Maundy Thursday indicates the Divine desire for a new humanity which can freely claim the paternity of our heavenly Father in heaven.
Seeing with God’s Eyes
Lord, can you fix my eyesight like you did for the blind man?
I want to see with your eyes those who are different from me.
I want to see with your eyes people from other races and cultures.
Help me to see with your eyes, Lord!
Blind me to the way the world sees so that I don’t give in to judging people
on their looks or skin colour or personality.
Help me to see, and to love as you love, Lordwith eyes so wide open that I can see past, the outside and right into the heart of another.
In. Jn.17:7 -11 You invite us all to dwell in your love.
All people, races, cultures and nationalities are part of your human family
And you invite us to be unified in your love.
It is important for us to celebrate our differences in a way that brings us together as your followers.
Our diversity enriches us, making life more full and interesting.
May it be a shadow of your Trinitarian diversity in Unity.
“May they be one as we are one!”
Your prayer at the Last supper rings out clear now more than ever!
1. The Catholic Youth Bible, St. Mary’s Press, 2004
2. The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II Documents,2003
3. Via Pulchritudines , Culture Publication Documents , Way of Beauty, 25th Jan. 2019
4. St.Josemaria Escriva on Culture, Pluralism, Freedom Christ won for us.
5. To be one in Christ , Ferdinando A.Ortiz & Gerard J.McGlone sj, 8.28.2015
6. Inter-cultural community living, Mathew Vattamattan cmf, Claretin Missionaries, General Prefecture
7. Intercultural Formation, Michael Park, 4th May 2015
Article by Sr. Calista Ponnu Dorai
Province of Divine Mercy, Indonesia